When I was a kid I loved taking things apart. Pop a couple screws off and you could view the inner workings of just about anything, from a clock to a computer. Given my dad’s engineering background, we had a constant supply of gadgets that we could get our hands on (and in).
Kids now are growing up side-by-side with technology. My daughter learned how to unlock my iphone at 7 months and was using her ipad games before she could crawl. But growing up knowing how to use technology, is not the same as wanting to know how it works.
Engineers need to know how things work, how they fit together. So do doctors. So do chemists. So do musicians. So do psychologists. Having the “mind of an engineer” is not about pushing a specific career path, it is about a way of thinking. It is about a desire to know more than just what you see on the surface.
To cultivate the mind of a engineer, we need to provide opportunities for our kids to explore and problem solve. Technology is great, but we need to create an environment for open ended, hands-on, exploration as well. Below are a few classic childhood activities that encourage kids to think like an engineer.
Puzzle it Out
Puzzles can take many forms and give good practice with problem solving. There are such a wide range of puzzles available, from the basic shape in hole, to jigsaw puzzles and 3-D puzzles. Tangrams also provide an interesting challenge for more advance puzzlers. The challenge and reward of solving a puzzle is also a natural motivator for building persistence.
Build, Build, Build
Not to take the engineer thing too literally, but the simple action of building a block tower can teach your child about structure, proportion, symmetry, and gravity. You can add interest by creating a wall of fame to mark highest towers built or giving specific challenges like only building with triangles.
Take Things Apart
I’m not suggesting that you give your 2 year old a computer to disassemble! However, it is great to provide our kids with opportunities to safely take things apart and try to reassemble them. Simple things like boxes, or a truck with wheels that pop on, can be great starting points. Even replacing batteries, learning how to connect the xbox, or changing a lightbulb is a learning experience.